Drinkers, drunkards and dipsomaniacs. Alcohol, doctors and class in Belgium, 1850-1914
AbstractDrunkenness was always a profoundly ambiguous state and different ways of drinking too much and more importantly, different members of society getting drunk, warranted separate explanations of the problem. Through the construction of 'the drunkard', boundaries delineating normal and acceptable behaviour were challenged and renegotiated. This thesis considers how the preoccupation with excessive drinking and its shifting interpretations revealed wider social and political concerns in a period of profound social change in Belgium from the mid-nineteenth century towards the First World War. Those involved in the debates about drunkenness were in the first place doctors, who shifted the understanding of drunkenness as a vice towards an interpretation of it as a pathological condition. Through an analysis of political debates, the thesis aims to understand how medicalised ideas on moral issues merged into and were at the same time informed by fears of working class social and political demands. Medical writings reveal a fluctuating, ever more specialised language to identify different types of drunkenness. Ideas of 'dangerousness' informed an explanation of the problem as a hereditary disorder related to madness and crime. A detailed case study based on patient records, of the diagnosis and treatment of alcoholic patients of two asylums in Ghent, one public, the other private, between the period 1850-1914, shows how in the daily confrontation between doctor and drunkard, ideas and practices merge. The outcomes of these dialogues provide insights into the 'structure of feeling' of a stratified society at a moment of profound social change. The thesis finally explores representations of the drunkard in fictional accounts through examples from both Flemish and Walloon literature and art but also through 'popular' fiction like folk stories and songs. Here, the concerns expressed by medical and political elites, re-emerged within a wider cultural setting.